For three years, Gov. Pat Quinn dodged, sidestepped and generally avoided saying what he would do when the “temporary” state income tax increase he signed into law in 2011 expired in 2015.
What I never heard Quinn do, and that’s because he never did, was promise he wouldn’t seek to make the tax increase permanent when the time came. He always left his options open.
The accusation that Quinn is now breaking a promise to Illinois taxpayers by asking state legislators to extend the tax increase has emerged as a central theme of Republican Bruce Rauner’s campaign for governor.
I suppose the charge is arguably fair game in a political campaign, where truth is in the eye of the beholder, but what’s been driving me crazy is to see Rauner’s claim repeated as fact by others in the news media.
This was not some last-minute switcheroo on Quinn’s part.
Quinn’s answer to questions about the looming tax expiration (and he was asked often) was always a variation on a theme along the lines of: we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
On the day after the tax hike was approved, Quinn indeed emphasized, maybe over-emphasized, its “temporary” nature to try to sell it to a skeptical public.
“We have some temporary tax increases that are designed to pay our bills, get Illinois back on fiscal sound footing and make sure that our state has a strong economy,” he told reporters in one of the sound bites now being used to portray him as a liar.
But when pressed by those same reporters about what he would do when the tax expired, Quinn responded:
“We’ll deal with one day at a time, one week, one month, one year at a time. I think our job now is to take what was passed last night, carry it out.”
Quinn’s oft-repeated non-answer was exasperating, to be sure, especially as the days, months and years ticked by with no indication the state was putting itself on track to forego the $4 billion in annual revenue the tax hike generates.
But the accusation that Quinn’s support for a tax increase breaks some promise to the people of Illinois, who had elected him in 2010 on a campaign platform that notably INCLUDED his support for an income tax increase, is off base.